Dominic McKinley disappointed as Antrim lose to Laois
Allianz Hurling League Division 1B: Laois 0-27 Antrim 2-16
THIS was a game that both managers would have targeted prior to the League campaign but on Saturday evening in O'Moore Park, Portlaosie, Laois supremo Eamon Kelly was by far the happier.
In stark contrast, Dominic McKinley was, in his own words, “bitterly disappointed” and at odds to explain as to how Antrim had played so poorly.
“We started well but for whatever reason we just couldn't get to the pace of the game. We seemed a yard or two off the pace all the time,” said McKinley.
“We fumbled the ball a lot, something we haven't done in the last two games”
Both sides enjoyed periods of dominance in the first half but in the run-up to the break Laois shot four unanswered points to leave five points separating the sides at the interval. Even so McKinley was not overly concerned.
“Last time when we were six points down against Dublin we came back. But today we could never get our hurling going, maybe it was the journey, we travelled seven hours. We are going to have to look at everything.”
In many ways the game turned into a shoot-out between the two free-takers – Antrim's Neil McManus and Laois' Ross King. Between them they accounted for 25 points from place balls prompting Kelly to say it was one of the most exceptional displays of free-taking he had ever seen from both players.
Cha Dwyer had opened the scoring for Laois but four on the trot from McManus had Antrim in command.
But then Laois took control, outscoring Antrim by eight points to five to hold a three-point advantage with 23 minutes on the clock.
A minute later Nigel Elliot landed an inspirational point and with McManus and Conor Johnston also on target the gap was down to the minimum 27 seven minutes in.
Laois, however, finished the half with a flourish as King and goalkeeper Enda Rowland both landed a brace of frees to leave their side leading 0-13 to 0-8 at the break.
The home side got off to a flying restart with Paddy Purcell and King (2) finding the target. Neal McAuley then exchanged points with James, as did King and Eoghan Campbell and Laois were apparently on their way to a fairly comfortable victory.
That all changed in the 47th minute when McManus's free from his own 65-metre line dropped in over all the Laois defence and Campbell was on hand to finish to the net and close the gap to five points.
From there to the end it was to be tit-for-tat, and while Laois always held the edge they could never relax.
Each time the home side threatened to forge ahead Antrim would rein them back in, though they could never quite close the gap.
With each side going on little scoring flurries with five minutes remaining the gap was still five.
When King scored his only point from play in the 66th minute Laois looked to be home and hosed. But credit to Antrim they are a game side and were never going to go down without fight.
A long ball into the danger area was not cleared by the Laois defence and quick as a flash Nigel Elliot nipped in, gathered the sliotar and drill it to the net.
Now it was Laois' chance to show whet they are made of and they too reacted positively to a setback. Sean Downey eased the pressure with a point and once King added a 65, after a miracle save by Chris O'Connell, there was to be no way back for Antrim.
Laois: E Rowland (0-2f); D Hartnett, L Bergin, L Cleere; P Lalor, M Whelan, E Killeen; J Ryan (0-2), P Purcell (0-1); B Conroy, C Dwyer (0-2), W Dunphy; R King (0-15, 0-13f, 0-1 65), N Foyle (0-2), C Comerford (0-1)
Subs: J Phelan for Killeen (51m), M Kavanagh (0-1 sl) for Comerford (54m), S Downey (0-1) for Foyle (58m), C Taylor for Conroy (61m), J Kelly for Dunphy (65m)
Antrim: C O'Connell; A Graffin, J Dillon, P Burke; R McCambridge, N McAuley (0-1), D Kearney; J Maskey, C McKinley; N Elliot (1-1), N McManus (0-11, 0-9f), D McKinley; J McNaughton, C McCann, C Johnston (0-1)
Subs: E Campbell (1-1) for McCann (h/t), C Carson for McNaughton (43m), S Rooney for Kearney (45m), M Connolly (0-1) for McKinley (47m), Gerard Walsh for Maskey (47m)
Referee: J Murphy (Limerick)